As such a big part of our lives, available on so many devices, offering constant updates on what is new, noteworthy and renewed, the Internet is a rich environment for hypes. You name it: anything can be hyped up into a sensation: celebrity Instagram updates, Twitter feuds, viral marketing stunts, plain old news (but so much more of it).

Traditional media was hype-driven. The blending of media channels with advertising models made noteworthiness or newsworthiness into a commodity and turned news into a rat race. But the news media were slow in comparison with digital-age hypes. Today, we see several hypes a week, multiple media sensations every day, updates every other hour. Technology now allows each of us – any broadcaster, whether among us or traditionally above us – to feed everyone else new input constantly. Nowadays, the media is as fluid as could ever have been predicted, and it is hungry. The interactive Internet has made all its users into producers, curators and distributors of content, resulting in a far more democratised media society but also an accelerated media landscape. We live, eat and breathe media influxes and outbursts, and we do it in huge portions, on multiverses of channels and devices.

The trouble with hypes is that they are both a shared experience and an isolation tool. Our hungriness for updates, for whatever pings on our smartphones, makes us continuously semi-absent in social environments that once had our full attention, detaches us from real relaxation in the privacy of our own homes. Hype is stressful. The idea of the computer as a loneliness machine is perhaps an outdated notion of technology’s role in our lives; as the past decades have shown, while we love being online (or in old-school cyberspace), we love nothing more than being there together, mass-consuming forms of interaction on not just one but many simultaneously consumed media channels. In this sense, hypes are very social. Hyped events are defined by the fact that they are consumed en masse, by the many, through media. We can, for instance, recall discussing the many media hypes that have dominated the Web offline as well, with friends and coworkers. Some of the biggest online sensations live and grow through interaction with us, sometimes in the form of actual participation (like the many online challenges).

Perhaps the phenomenon of digital hype needs re-evaluation. We grow out of hypes fast, but we have collectively invented and appreciated many new incarnations time and time again. With our ever-growing boredom with previous hype models, we can perhaps evolve into more effective and creative consumers of hypes. Many recent ones have combined tongue-in-cheek online fun with a serious undertone of, if not downright political activism, at least ironic disdain for societal wrongs.


Above: The Selfie Olympics.
With the craze around the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the lack of attention to Russias human rights violations, the Internet responded collectively with an ironic personal take on the Games. The Selfie Olympics was a challenge that diverted attention from the international sports mania. Its rules were simple: take a weird selfie in your bathroom using a prop of your choice and striving for originality. It was Twitter gold. The resulting swarm of ridiculous images shot in badly lit bathrooms made the Selfie Olympics the biggest meme of early 2014. Using the hashtags #selfieolympics and #selfiegames, tens of thousands contributed all over the world.

Above: “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman”.
The two-minute compilation video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” was an experiment by actress Shoshana Roberts and director Robert Bliss. Edited down for ultimate viral spreadability, the video compresses 10 hours of catcalls and comments made by male passersby to Roberts, who dressed conservatively for the occasion, in jeans and a crewneck sweater, to underline the fact that sexual harassment in the public sphere is as present as ever – and that no, women aren’t asking for it by wearing revealing clothing. The video was a project of Hollaback!, an organisation that aims to shed light on the harassment of women in urban environments, and was carefully set up to go viral to raise awareness of the problem. The actress traverses New York’s streets impassively, ignoring the constant flirtations that often border on intimidation as the director, walking a few steps in front of her, films her with a hidden camera. The video was an immediate sensation, becoming a topic for debate on talk shows and in news items – and, sadly, a thoroughly parodied project. Dozens of satirical statements and ironic reinterpretations can be found online. In a way, the project shows the fragility of clear ideological messages: they are easily mocked and condemned as self-congratulatory and politically correct.